The Animal Books that Changed People’s Lives: Part 2

The books about animals that had a profound effect on people’s lives.

The animal books that changed people's lives, part 2


This is the second post in a series on the animal books that changed people’s lives. You can read part 1, animal lovers on the books that changed their lives, here.

The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell

Vanessa Mae Hajek MS CTC of Hands Full Dog training told me,

“In 2002, my dad got me a book for my 14th birthday. Patricia McConnell's The Other End of the Leash. He knew nothing about the author and nothing about the book so he took a chance. I read it in four days. McConnell introduced me to dogs as a subject of scientific study and more importantly, further introduced me to this radical idea of modifying dog behavior not with force or intimidation, but with food. During the next few years I devoured all things force-free dog training and slowly began changing how I trained which slowly began changing how I thought about training. For years I thought my dog was selectively stubborn when she was probably confused (or worse, scared) and I could not figure out why certain cues like "Stay" made my dog nervous. Now I began to understand that the very methods I had been taught were integral to dog training were also the very methods causing this response.  (Pro Tip: do not bang pots together right next to your dog to teach them not to break their stay no matter what. This doesn't do what you think it does) and your dog will not thank you. The Other End of the Leash started 14 year-old me on a path to force-free dog training and the trainers/behaviorists I discovered after this book (Jean Donaldson, Karen Pryor, etc.) cemented that path. I'm 30 now and have been working my dream job as a force-free professional dog trainer for 3 years because I read a book that changed how I viewed dogs and in turn, molded my life. So, thank you Patricia McConnell (and dad) for getting me a random dog book because I circled it in the back of a pet supply magazine.”

The animal books that changed lives part 1. Cover of The Other End of the Leash



Animals You Will Never Forget by Reader’s Digest

Megan Leavy, ABCDT of Southpaw Dog Training told me,

Animals You Will Never Forget. This book was published the year I was born - 1969, and I think my grandparents gave it to me for Christmas one year, probably before I was 10 years old.  I poured over that book cover to cover over and over for years.

Each short story presented a different animal and gave it so much more depth than what I was exposed to as a child.  There were no 'dumb' animals in that book, they all possessed skills, emotions, and cognitive behaviors that were not believed to be possible in when I was 10.  That, combined with a variety of different things like Charlotte's Web, and Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom (that we watched religiously when I was growing up), I think gave me a deeper insight into the animals around us.  We had all sorts of animals growing up, and I've always believed they deserved richer lives than what humans afforded them due to human beliefs.

I passed my copy on to a friend's daughter years ago, but after becoming a dog trainer, I got another copy to keep for kids to read when they come to my training center.”




The Power of Positive Dog Training by Pat Miller

Sheryl Winkler told me,

“Pat Miller's The Power of Positive Dog Training. Prior to getting our first puppy we took loads of books and videos out of the library which pretty much convinced us how we DIDN’T want to train! I spent loads of time on Yahoo groups and reading what I could to find an alternative. And then Pat Miller came out with this book. I felt I had found the canine equivalent of Dr Spock’s baby care book - clear practical positive answers to everything I could think of. I lost count of how many copies of the book I bought because every time someone I knew got a dog I “loaned” them my copy and no one ever returned it!!!”

The animal books that changed people's lives, part 2. Cover of The Power of Positive Dog Training



Plenty in Life is Free: Reflections on Dogs, Training, and Finding Grace by Kathy Sdao

Kayla Block MA CTC of Understanding Dog Training told me,

“My mother used to joke that her dog must think her name is Kadie-no. A hundred times a day, my mother told her what she didn’t want her to do. It was frustrating for my mother and I’m sure it wasn’t fun for the dog. Kathy Sdao’s book, Plenty in Life Is Free: Reflections on Dogs, Training and Finding Grace recommends doing the exact opposite. Your dog might start to think his name is Fido-goodboy! Kathy recommends starting your day with a bag of small treats and watching your dog for things you like. Your goal is to have an empty bag by the end of the day. Multiply that by a week or a year and over time, without much effort, you have a dog doing so much more of what you like and you have fewer reasons to tell your dog, “no”.Once you start looking for things to reinforce in your dog, you may find yourself looking for things to reinforce in people too!”

The animal books that changed lives, part 2. Cover of Plenty in Life is Free


Animal Liberation by Peter Singer

Jean Donaldson of the Academy for Dog Trainers and author of The Culture Clash and other books told me,

“I read the book Animal Liberation by Peter Singer in 1987 and it changed my life utterly.  I became vegetarian, volunteered for animal causes, took a job between semesters at the SPCA, and that was the beginning of a migration towards doing companion dogs full time rather than sports.  It also spurred me to read other similar books to get myself educated on the plight of animals in our society.”

The animal books that changed people's lives, part 2. Cover of Animal Liberation



For more book suggestions, check out the Animal Book Club or visit my Amazon store:  https://www.amazon.com/shop/animalbookclub

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Most Serious Dog Bites Happen at Home, and No Breed Group Can Be Blamed

A study of dog bites in Calgary finds no breed group can be singled out for serious bites, and older adults may be at more risk than previously thought.

Most serious dog bites happen at home, and BSL is not the answer
Photo: Christian Mueller/Shutterstock


Dog bites are a serious public health problem. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 4.7 million Americans are bitten every year and 800,000 require medical treatment. New research from Dr. Niamh Caffrey and colleagues (University of Calgary), published in Animals, investigates all dog bites in Calgary between 2012 and 2017. What makes this study unique is the level of detail and reliability of the data compared to most studies of dog bites.

The results show that the people most at risk of dog bites are children, youth, and older adults (aged 60 or above). While the increased risk for children and youth is as expected, the higher risk for older adults may come as a surprise. As well, the research shows no difference between breed groups in terms of serious bites.

Dr. Caffrey, first author of the study, told me in an email,
“I think the key message to take from our study is that everyone needs to be aware of the warning signs that a dog may bite. With dogs such an important part of our society, we all need to become better at understanding dog behaviour. If we can educate both dog owners and the general public in how to interact with dogs more safely then we could reduce or prevent bites.”

The city of Calgary has animal control bylaws based on responsible dog ownership. Dogs in Calgary must be licensed and have permanent identification, and spay/neuter of pets and regular veterinary visits are encouraged. Any dog bite incidents must be reported, and animal control officers will work with the dog’s owner to try to prevent future incidents. As well, funds from licensing are used to provide education programs to schools.

The city records dog bites according to a modified Dunbar bite scale (see below), and categorizes them into three levels. ‘Chases’ are bites on level 1 or 2, which can be considered low severity as they involve no punctures to the skin although there may be some bruising. It is likely there are more low severity bites than are reported to the city, given that medical attention is not needed.

Level 3 bites are medium severity and involve 1-3 punctures from a single bite, with no shaking or tearing. High severity bites comprise levels 3.5 (multiple level 3 bites) through to level 5 (multiple bites in which the dog held on and/or shook their head from side to side).

Most serious dog bites happen at home. Table shows the modified Dunbar bite scale
The modified Dunbar bite scale used in Calgary. Reproduced from Caffrey et al (2019) under Creative Commons licence.


The analysis looked at 2165 dog bite incidents, of which 51% were low severity, 35% medium severity, and 13.5% were high severity. These incidents involved 1,873 dogs, and 54 of those dogs were subsequently euthanized. The good news is that in the timescale of the study, the number of severe dog bites fell.

Because of the large number of breeds and mixed-breeds, dogs were classified according to breed group. No particular breed group was more likely to bite than any other (see graph below). For all of the breed groups, low and medium severity bites were much more common than high severity bites.

Most serious dog bites happen at home. Table shows bites by breed group; no group poses a particular risk
Bites of low, medium, and high severity by breed group. No particular breed group can be singled out as causing more bites. Image reproduced from Caffrey et al (2019) under Creative Commons licence.

The kind of bite that occurred in public places was most often of low severity. Medium and high severity bites were more likely to occur in the home or on the owner’s property, or at an off-leash dog park. The finding that high severity bites are most common in the owner’s home is in line with previous research. Children, youth, and older adults were more likely to be bitten than adults.

Medium and high severity bites were more common from male dogs (whether neutered or not). Dogs aged 3 or more were more likely to bite, although it is hard to assess the effects of age as the city uses broad age groupings rather than the actual age of the dog.

Even low severity bites can affect people profoundly, including how safe they feel when out and about in public. The researchers point out that preventing low severity bites is an important part of any dog bite prevention program. As well, responding to this kind of bite is an opportunity to prevent future bites, for example by teaching dogs to like strangers.

These results show that dog bite prevention needs to be aimed at all age groups. They also show the importance of close supervision of dogs with children, even when the dog is familiar. Other research has found that many people misinterpret dogs’ body language around children which underlines the need for more education. Learning how to recognize signs of fear in dogs,  and to give them the space to back away or not interact if they are afraid is useful for everyone to know. As well, it is important to socialize puppies during the sensitive period, something which many dog owners don’t seem to manage enough of

Calgary’s approach to dog bite prevention is internationally known as an alternative to breed specific legislation. BSL does not seem to reduce dog bites (see e.g. breed specific legislation had no effect on dog bites in Odense, Denmark). The important message is that any dog can bite.

The use of the Dunbar bite scale in this study is particularly helpful, as it provides more information about the risks and shows the most serious bites tend to happen at home. While everyone needs to know about preventing dog bites, it seems that targeting parents (e.g. at medical services, after school clubs) as well as seniors would make the biggest difference. This is valuable information because it means messages can be targeted to those groups most at risk.

The full paper is open access and can be read at the link below.


You might also like: Preventing dog bites in children and a new approach to dog bite prevention.

Reference
Caffrey, N., Rock, M., Schmidtz, O., Anderson, D., Parkinson, M., & Checkley, S. L. (2019). Insights about the epidemiology of dog bites in a Canadian city using a dog aggression scale and administrative data. Animals, 9(6), 324. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9060324

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Companion Animal Psychology News June 2019

What pigeons teach us about home, the view from a catcam, and stunning photographs of dogs... this month's Companion Animal Psychology news.

Cat cams, homing pigeons, and stunning dog photos... Companion Animal Psychology News June 2019


Wag news

I am very excited to share the news that my publisher, Greystone Books, has made the official announcement that my book, Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy, will be published in Spring 2020. This month I have been responding to the proof-reader’s queries and have also seen the page spreads. After all this hard work, it is finally starting to look like a real book.

Some of my favourites this month

 “When they were in their homes, the cats spent a lot of time following their humans around. They liked to be in the same room. A lot of my students were surprised at how attached cats were to people.” David Grimm interviewed one of the researchers behind the recent catcam study (don't miss the video!) and Dr. Mikel Delgado wrote about Can “catcams” help us study behaviour?

“I thought that keeping pigeons might teach me something about what home meant, and that by training them I would discover the new landscape we now inhabited alongside them.” Home to roost: My life as a pigeon fancier by Jon Day. An extract from his new book, Homing: On Pigeons, Dwellings and Why We Return.

Warm weather safety tips for cats by Pam Johnson Bennett covers a whole host of things you probably haven’t thought of.

“And yet, as I was driving yesterday, listening to another podcast, I had an “aha moment” about something I’d been told at least a dozen times.” We’ve been training backwards by Tim Steele.

“Polydactyl cats are often nicknamed “Hemingway cats” for their association with the Pulitzer- and Nobel Prize-winning author, who had a number of them at his Key West home." Why some cats have extra toes by Dr. Marty Becker.

“As science grapples with just how little it knows about the mysteries of human consciousness, it's also reassessing the complexity of animal minds.” Dr. Marc Bekoff was interviewed by CBC on Science is revealing more about animals’ rich complex inner lives.

“Unfortunately, in the United States, where dog registration is not consistently enforced, it is impossible to know how many dogs of different breeds live among us.” Prof. Clive Wynne on the issues with a recent study of dog bites.

Hidden Brain on NPR explores the contradictions and quandaries of our relationship with animals, with psychologist Dr. Hal Herzog.

Artist Aja Trier reimagines Van Goth with dogs… Starry night dogs by Kelly Richman-Abdou.

Dogs in focus looks at a selection of photos of dogs by famous photographers that are part of an exhibition in London in honour of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.

Animal Book Club

This month, the Animal Book Club is reading Once a Wolf: The Science Behind Our Dogs' Astonishing Genetic Evolution by Bryan Sykes. The book club reads 10 books a year, and new members are welcome. For those who prefer general chit-chat about animal books without a commitment to read, there's also the Animal Books Facebook group.

Once a Wolf is the Companion Animal Psychology book club book of the month

You can find all the books in my Amazon store: https://www.amazon.com/shop/animalbookclub

Upcoming webinar

On 16th July at 2pm Eastern time, I will be doing a webinar for the Pet Professional Guild called Debunk, Support Science, or Tell a Story? How to Communicate About Dog Training and Animal Welfare. If you want to know how to deal with misinformation in our field and how to craft an engaging message, this webinar is for you.

The webinar is open to anyone whether or not they are a member of the PPG, and everyone who signs up will automatically get a recording after the event. (Those in the British Isles can sign up via this link instead: https://ppgbi.com/event-3358398)

Support Companion Animal Psychology on Ko-fi

Companion Animal Psychology is open to everyone and supported by animal lovers like you. If you like what you see, you can buy me a coffee on Ko-fi, or even make it a monthly thing.



This month I’d like to say a special thank you to Jane Appleton, Vetanswers, and several anonymous people for their support and kind words. You help me keep this blog going and I really appreciate it!

Here at Companion Animal Psychology

Earlier this month, I was honoured to speak at the BC SPCA Animal Behaviour Science Symposium about what dog trainers need to know about cat behaviour. Jean Donaldson’s key note speech was a rousing call for regulation and standards in dog training. Other highlights for me included Dr. Chris Pachel’s workshop on communicating with clients, Debbie Martin’s talk on how trainers can work more closely with vets, and Kim Monteith’s inspiring talk about her work with the pets of vulnerable people in Vancouver’s poorest neighbourhood. There were also wonderful talks from Dr. Karen van Haaften , Dr. Claudia Richter, Sarah Pennington, and Lisbeth Plant. The date for next year’s conference is already set: 6 – 8 June 2020.

Recently I was quoted in how to pet a dog the right way on Mother Nature Network, and in nosework is scentsational for dogs on Fear Free Happy Homes (this story also includes some tips on nosework from instructor Sarah Owings for those wanting to give it a try).

At my Psychology Today blog Fellow Creatures, I just wrote about a new literature review on the challenges and benefits of pets for seniors. With an aging population, it’s important topic to consider.

My own post for the Train for Rewards blog party looked at three ways we can help support and encourage people to use reward-based training methods. It follows on nicely from an earlier post on new research that found confidence and emotions affect people’s use of positive reinforcement. If you’ve got a reactive dog, you’ll recognize some of the feelings mentioned in that post. As well, I looked at how Hungarian dog owners perceive “dominance” in the relationship between their dogs in multi-dog homes.

The Train for Rewards blog party

In mid-June, pet bloggers came together to celebrate the benefits of reward-based training in the fourth annual Train for Rewards blog party.  It was a huge success and I want to say a big thank you to everyone who took part.

Train for Rewards blog party button 2019

There are some incredible posts about dogs and cats, and a record number of entries this year. Dr. Marc Bekoff wrote about recent research on positive reinforcement training, in “Bad dog?” The psychology and importance of positive reinforcement training. Jessica Ring told the story of how she helped keep Gus occupied during a long period of crate rest, and Kristi Benson interviewed Suzanne Bryner about the Bruisers play group she runs for big dogs with a tricky play style. In one delight of reward-based training by Joan Forry you can even see a dog take a selfie. And Eileen Anderson explains that she likes to “teach the dog that treats fall from heaven whenever anything weird happens in the environment” as part of teaching your dog to self-interrupt.

Cats are not forgotten. Amongst others, Feline Engineering shares some tips on training cats  and ChirpyCats explains how to train your cat to stay off countertops and to do a high five (with some very cute videos!).

As well, a hilarious post from Melissa McCue McGrath’s dog explains why he should be allowed to roll in goose poop…   but you should also read McGrath’s more serious post about the magic of positive reinforcement dog training. But there are many other awesome posts, too many to mention here. Be sure to check them all out!

Pets in art

This month’s pets in art is titled Cat on Doorstep, and is by Henry Stacy Marks.

Cat on Doorstep, drawing, part of Companion Animal Psychology News June 2019


It’s in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago and is dated 1849-1848.

Fellow Creatures: Seniors and Pets

I have a new post at my Psychology Today blog, Fellow Creatures, about a new review study of seniors with pets.

It shows that while pets can have many benefits for older people, there are can also be some issues, and the report has some suggestions. Read more in the challenges and benefits of pet ownership for seniors.

Photo: Peter Baxter/Shutterstock.

The Train for Rewards Blog Party is live

The Train for Rewards blog party is now live. You can read an amazing set of posts from talented dog trainers and animal behaviour professionals on the reward-based training of dogs and cats.

Check it out here.

Then share your favourite posts on social media with the hashtag #Train4Rewards.

There is also a photo post where you can add a photo of your pet to show your support for training with positive reinforcement. (It's a pet-ition, geddit?!).

The Train for Rewards blog party is now live

To Promote Positive Reinforcement Dog Training, Teach, Engage, and Amplify

Three tips to encourage and support people to use reward-based training methods with their dog or other pet.

Tips to promote positive reinforcement dog training
Photo: D.K. Grove/Shutterstock


How can we encourage more people to use positive reinforcement to train their dog?

Those of you who know me know that this question is often on my mind. It’s because positive reinforcement is good for animal welfare and fun for the dog. I explore some of this in the post that kicked off the very first Train for Rewards blog party, seven reasons to use reward-based training methods. I even wrote an article for the Journal of Veterinary Behavior about the barriers to the adoption of humane dog training methods, which you can read about in why don’t more people use positive reinforcement to train dogs.

Today, for the fourth annual Train for Rewards blog party, I want to share three tips that we all can use to help encourage and support people to use reward-based training methods with their dog, or other animal (because reward-based training is for all our pets).

Tips on R+ for the 2019 Train for Rewards blog party


Teach people how to use positive reinforcement successfully

We know that positive reinforcement is an effective and successful way to train dogs, but for beginners in particular there can be some technical roadblocks. These can be especially frustrating if we suddenly get a dog that seems harder to train. Or if we’ve simply forgotten what it’s like to train a novice dog who has still to learn that doing the right stuff results in food and is busy bouncing all over the place instead.

Perhaps it’s especially difficult when the dog’s unwanted behaviour happens in public, which can make us feel embarrassed, awkward, or even upset.

In fact a recent study of the training choices made by owners of reactive dogs shows that these negative emotions can get in the way of the right decision. As well, people are more likely to say they will use positive reinforcement if they feel confident in their abilities to do so.

What this means is that dog trainers need to work hard to support their clients in developing their training skills, and provide scaffolding on which future training can be based. Just as we make things easy for the dog to begin with, we should also make it easy for the person so they don’t become discouraged.

Teach people how to use positive reinforcement dog training. Photo shows puppy high-five
Photo: manushot/Shutterstock


This means paying attention to things like using the right rewards (see the best dog training treats  and do dogs prefer petting or praise). As well, it means paying attention to timing, both the timing of the click (if using a clicker) and the timing of the food reward (whether using a clicker or not).

It means working on training scenarios in easy locations, so that by the time someone has to use their skills in public, they have got those skills down pat. And it may also mean rehearsing things to say or do in case difficult situations pop up or another dog owner decides to make an unwelcome comment, because we all know it can happen.

And it means meeting the person where they are, having a sense of humour, and not being judgemental. For those of us who’ve trained dozens of dogs, it’s easy to forget what it all felt like when it was new.

For me, having treats in my pocket for those occasions when they are required is second nature, but not everyone wants stinky tripe treats on their person. I do understand.

So then it’s a case of helping the person figure out where they could keep treats so they are to hand when they need to reinforce their dog’s behaviour.

All of these things (and more) become habits as we learn to train dogs, but it’s a lot to learn when just starting out. To encourage more people to use positive reinforcement, we need to help them build their skills and confidence.

To promote positive dog training, teach, engage, and amplify. Pembroke Welsh Corgi practices recall.
Photo: Maxfromhell/Shutterstock


Engage people with positive posts about positive reinforcement


Often when we see that someone has posted something wrong about dog training on the internet, we feel the urge to write a post about it and correct it. Unfortunately, attempts to correct misinformation often backfire; one reason is that they tend to spread the misinformation further (see reasons to be positive about being positive in dog training for more on this).

But we also know that to be effective, messages should be visually appealing and easy for people to understand. Positive messages are easy for people to get behind. As well, messages should connect with the audience, for example by telling a story.

Can you see where I’m going with this? If only dog trainers had lots of positive stories about cute dogs whose lives are better (and whose owners are happier) because of positive reinforcement training…

As people with pets, we can share the positive stories of things we’ve done and the ways they’ve helped, along with nice photos of our pet to get people’s interest.

As dog trainers, we can share positive stories of clients we have helped, with little bits of information about the kind of thing that worked, and again, beautiful photos of the pet. This isn’t just helping to drum up future business for you (though it is, I’m sure) but it’s also contributing to positive change in the dog training industry by showing people examples of what can be done.

Teach, engage and amplify messages about R+ dog training. Photo of Jack Russell on couch
Photo: dezy/Shutterstock


Write for the world you want to see. The more people hear positive examples, the more likely they are to think of giving positive reinforcement a try.

So take that rant that you really feel like posting, and turn it instead into a positive story about something that has made a difference. Add a nice photo. In the end, it’s the sweeter option. The fact that it shows off your knowledge and expertise too is an added benefit.

Write for the world you want to see, banner with text over dog in bluebell woods


Amplify messages about positive reinforcement


The number of people who are putting out great content about reward-based dog training keeps on going up, which means there is a lot of amazing content out there we can amplify. Books, blog posts, newspaper articles, stories on social media, talks… it all counts.

We can amplify messages by sharing them on social media, or simply talking to friends about them over coffee.

Every time we amplify something about the benefits of using positive reinforcement to train dogs, we are helping to build up social norms that this is the way to train dogs. Which means that next time someone is thinking about dog training, they are more likely to think of positive reinforcement.

This is one of the reasons I love to share my favourite links in my monthly newsletter. If I’ve read something fantastic, I want others to know about it too. Since my newsletter appears on the web as well as in other people’s inboxes, it gives those posts a link too, which hopefully helps them with the search engines (search engines love backlinks).

Amplify messages about positive reinforcement dog training. Photo shows husky singing with two women
Photo:Milica Nistoran/Shutterstock


Even if you only have a small following on your social media account, your shares reach people who would not have otherwise seen or heard about the content. So amplification is something everyone can take part in.

Plus, these are our fellow animal lovers whose posts we are sharing. We are all part of a bigger network that wants to make the world a better place. Dog trainers, vets, pet sitters, vet techs, cat behaviourists, dog walkers, horse trainers… we all need to work together to promote the best ways to train our animals.

So be generous. Generosity feels good, and it does good.


Rewarding the right behaviours


So if we want to encourage more people to use positive reinforcement, we have to Teach, Engage, and Amplify.

Which handily spells TEA.

And I’m British, so I like tea. (Bear with me for a moment…).

What I’m building up to is that it’s important to reward yourself for doing these things (which is also a theme for participants in the Train for Rewards blog party). You might like tea and biscuits, coffee and cake, or a glass of wine… that’s up to you.

Sometimes change happens more slowly than we would like. The thing is, it can get depressing and there’s no point in trying to hide it. The more you learn about animal welfare, animal behaviour, and dog training, the more you see things that aren’t quite right. It’s hard.

So we have to take care of ourselves, because this stuff is important. One way to do that is with tea (or wine or chocolate or…) after we’ve done our TEA. So it's TEA-tea, or TEA-wine, or whatever works for you.

Teach, engage and amplify positive training methods. Photo shows cats curled up by window on rainy day
Photo:Irina Kozorog/Shutterstock


Thank you to everyone who amplifies this blog. You helped me get over half a million different visitors in the last twelve months, which is incredible.

And thank you to everyone who is taking part in Train for Rewards this year, whether as a blogger or a reader. You rock!

Upcoming webinar: If you're interested in this topic, you might like to know I presented a webinar for the Pet Professional Guild entitled Debunk, Support Science, or Tell a Story? How to Communicate about Dog Training and Animal Welfare on Tuesday 16th July 2019. If you missed the live webinar, you can purchase the recording at that link.

Join over 2,500 animal lovers and subscribe to Companion Animal Psychology.

References
Bush, J. M., Jung, H., Connell, J. P., & Freeberg, T. M. (2018). Duty now for the future: a call for public outreach by animal behaviour researchers. Animal Behaviour, 139, 161-169.
Todd, Z. (2018). Barriers to the adoption of humane dog training methods. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 25, 28-34.
Williams, E. J., & Blackwell, E. (2019). Managing the risk of aggressive dog behavior: investigating the influence of owner threat and efficacy perceptions. Risk Analysis.

The Train for Rewards Photo Post 2019

Do you use rewards to train your dog or cat (or other pet)? Show your support for reward-based training by posting a photo of your pet to the pet-ition here.

By popular request, this post is part of the Train for Rewards blog party hosted here at Companion Animal Psychology.

Add your pet’s photo, then share on social media with the hashtag #Train4Rewards.


You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!
Click here to enter


The photo link-up is open until 4pm Pacific time on Thursday 20th June, when the full list of Train for Rewards posts is available.

How to add the photo


Click where it says 'add your link' and follow the instructions to add your photo (no link is required). You will have up to 50 characters for your pet’s name. The link-up only allows 3 photos per person.

If you make a mistake, you can delete the entry and start again.

You have to give your email address, but it will not be used except if needed to communicate about the photo link-up. You can read the privacy policy here.

You have to sign up separately if you want to subscribe to Companion Animal Psychology..

Thank you to everyone who is taking part!

The Train for Rewards photo post. Add your pet's photo here. Photo shows cat

"Bad Dog?" The Psychology and Importance of Using Positive Reinforcement

Calling a dog a "bad dog" very often displays a lack of knowledge about dog behavior, says Marc Bekoff in this essay on the importance of positive reinforcement in dog training.

This guest post by Marc Bekoff is part of the Train for Rewards blog party.

"Bad dog?" The psychology and important of positive reinforcement. Photo shows GoldenDoodle.
Photo: Daniel Brachlow/Pixabay

"Eugene, you're a bad dog. Why did you try to fight with Melvin?"
"Monica, why did you attack Rosie? Bad dog!"
"Bad dog, bad dog, bad dog! Good dogs don't do that."
"My dog Joey was badly abused by other dogs and humans when he was young and learned that he had to fight back. He was doing what came naturally. Now that I've worked hard to socialize him to other dogs and to humans and to praise him when he doesn't fight back, he's learned that fighting fire with fire doesn't work. I always told him he's a 'good dog' when he didn't fight back."
"I learned that letting Henry know he was a 'good dog' when he wasn't reactive was the best way to teach him that fighting back wasn't the best strategy to use. I learned that positive training was the only way to go."

Calling a dog a "bad dog" very often displays a lack of knowledge about dog behavior

A new essay by Psychology Today writer Dr. Zazie Todd called "Confidence and Emotions Affect People's Use of Positive Reinforcement to Train Reactive Dogs" crossed my computer screen a few hours ago. I immediately read her piece and the research essay on which it was based published in the journal Risk Analysis by University of Bristol (UK) researchers Drs. Emma Williams and Emily Blackwell titled "Managing the Risk of Aggressive Dog Behavior: Investigating the Influence of Owner Threat and Efficacy Perceptions."


Dr. Todd's essay is available for free online. However, while the original study is not, I was able to read it and I'm glad I did. It's a significant contribution to the available literature on different methods used to train aggressive or reactive dogs, and clearly shows that positive reinforcement and force-free training is the way to go. (See "Science Shows Positive Reward-Based Dog Training is Best," "Should Dogs Be Shocked, Choked, or Pronged?" and "Training Methods Affect the Service Dog–Veteran Relationship.") The first three quotations with which I began this essay are just a handful of many in which a human called or often screamed "bad dog" when the dog was simply doing something that was entirely dog-appropriate and appropriate to the situations in which they behaved aggressively. It's the way in which some dogs learned to respond to past situations in which they felt scared and unsafe, either because it was instinctive or because it worked.



The last two quotations are right on the mark. Joey the dog had to unlearn what had worked for him in the past, before he found a loving and safe home and was given plenty of opportunities to interact with other dogs, all of whom would have nothing to do with him when he did what came naturally to him. Henry's human also learned that using positive training and letting him know he was a "good dog" when he wasn't reactive really worked.

The abstract for Drs. Williams and Blackwell's study reads:
"Aggressive behavior in pet dogs is a serious problem for dog owners across the globe, with bite injuries representing a serious risk to both people and other dogs. The effective management of aggressive behavior in dogs represents a challenging and controversial issue. Although positive reinforcement training methods are now considered to be the most effective and humane technique to manage the risk of aggression, punishment‐based methods continue to be used. Unfortunately, there has been little scientific study into the various factors influencing whether dog owners choose to use positive reinforcement techniques to manage aggression in their dogs."

To remedy the lack of data, Drs. Williams and Blackwell used surveys completed by 630 people whose dogs showed reactive behavior, including barking, lunging, and growling, the most common behaviors, and also snapping, snarling, nipping, and biting. The people also were asked if they knew about positive reinforcement training (93% had), and 67% reported they knew basic aspects of dog behavior. The surveys were based on protection motivation theory (PMT), a theory put forth in 1975 by psychologist Ronald W. Rogers:
"to investigate the factors that influence owner use of positive reinforcement methods to manage aggressive behavior, in an attempt to understand potential barriers and drivers of use. In addition, the article provides an initial exploration of the potential role of wider psychological factors, including owner emotional state, social influence, and cognitive bias." 
PMT focuses:
"on how owner perceptions of threat related to the likelihood and severity of aggressive behavior, and perceptions of efficacy related to the effectiveness and personal use of positive reinforcement as a risk management strategy, influence both future intentions and current use of such training techniques." 

To the best of their knowledge, PMT has not previously been applied to the study of human-animal interactions.

The significance of this new study

"It is important for owners, and the practitioners helping them, to consider their own wellbeing and reactions as well as those of the dog. In particular, how this may influence the choices that they make and in turn, how their own responses can best be managed over the course of their training journey."
"The findings of this research suggest a number of practical implications applicable to practitioners working with the owners of dogs who display aggressive behavior. First, it is encouraging to note that even though trainers and some TV celebrities still expound the virtues of punishment-based training methods, this was highlighted as less important in the list of potential influences."
Dr. Todd nicely summarizes the results of this landmark study, one that has clear practical applications. She writes,
"New research from Dr. Emma Williams and Dr. Emily Blackwell (University of Bristol)...shows the importance of dog trainers building their clients’ confidence and abilities to use positive reinforcement has important implications for how dog trainers work with their clients." 
She also quotes an email from Dr. Williams in which the researcher wrote:
"When learning to use positive methods, people are likely to need practical support that demonstrates the effectiveness of reward-based training and also provides an opportunity to practice under expert guidance, so that people feel truly confident in using the techniques themselves in a range of challenging scenarios." 
To this end, the researchers conclude,
"the results suggest that increased perceptions of the potential severity of aggressive behavior in dogs may increase the likelihood that individuals will use positive-reinforcement methods."

Where to from here?

"Future interventions should focus on enhancing owner confidence in the effective use of positive reinforcement techniques across multiple scenarios, as well as helping owners manage their own emotional responses when they encounter challenging situations and setbacks."
Drs. Williams and Blackwell are well aware that more research is needed on the reasons why people choose to use different training techniques. However, their data clearly show that the emotional state and confidence of dog guardians plays a strong role in how they choose to deal with a reactive dog.

In her summary of Drs. Williams and Blackwells' seminal study Dr. Todd writes,
"This is an important study that helps us understand how people make decisions about dog training. The survey shows that when someone has a reactive dog, their future use of positive reinforcement to deal with the behaviour problem is predicted by their confidence in using it at home and in public and their beliefs in its effectiveness." 
Indeed, when people experience negative emotions and bad experiences it reduces their confidence in using positive reinforcement training.

In the title to my essay I put the phrase "bad dog" in quotes because it has to be emphasized that calling a dog a "bad dog" often indicates a lack of knowledge about dog behavior and can backfire when a person is trying to stop a dog from doing something. Sometimes a dog will behave aggressively because it's the dog appropriate thing to do, or at least it has worked for them in the past when they felt threatened or insecure. It's also essential to pay careful attention to each and every individual dog because they aren't all the same. Their unique personalities may come to the fore and they take action when things get iffy or tough. (See Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do and Unleashing Your Dog: A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion the Best Life Possible). (affiliate links)


"I find it extremely interesting and important that a human's emotional state can play such a strong role in how they decide to train their dog."


This is among the many reasons why it's essential that people become fluent in dog, or dog literate. Along these lines, it's encouraging that two-thirds of the people who partook in Drs. Williams and Blackwells' study said they had basic knowledge of dog behavior. Concerning reactive dogs, for example, when a dog growls, it's not necessarily being assertive or aggressive. Growling isn't as simple as it seems, and sometimes it's entirely appropriate to the situation at hand. (See "Why Dogs Growl"). In many situations with which I'm familiar, calling a dog a "bad dog" is way too fast for me.

Dr. Todd ends her essay by noting that if your dog is reactive, you need to be very careful when choosing a trainer. Useful information can be found at the Care for Reactive Dogs website. Her cautionary statement is very important because globally there are very few if any regulations on who can call themselves a dog trainer. (See "Choose a Dog Trainer as Carefully as You Would a Surgeon" and "Dog Training's Dirty Little Secret: Anyone Can Legally Do It").

"Bad dog?" Marc Bekoff on the importance of positive reinforcement, pictured with dog Minnie
Dr. Marc Bekoff with Minnie


Stay tuned for further studies on the reasons why people choose different methods of training. Drs. Williams and Blackwells' study is just what is needed in an area in which there are few systematic quantitative studies. I hope their entire essay becomes available online sooner than later. It is that significant and should be required reading for all dog trainers/teachers. I also hope that people who decide to share their homes and hearts with a canine companion will at least read summaries of their results. I find it extremely interesting and important that a human's emotional state can play such a strong role in how they decide to train their dog. It's also essential to pay careful attention not only to the behavior of a dog but also to the nature of their relationship with their humans.

Dr. Todd writes, "The people side of dog training cannot be neglected if trainers are to encourage people to use positive reinforcement". (My emphasis) I totally agree. Drs. Williams and Blackwells' findings are consistent with the fact that dogs read us well. (See "Dogs Watch Us Carefully and Read Our Faces Very Well" and "Dogs mirror stress levels of owners, researchers find").

When we know more about dog behavior and dog-human relationships, perhaps especially in situations where reactive dogs do what seems to serve them best, namely, growl, snap, snarl, nip, or bite for whatever reasons, it'll be a win-win for all. I also hope that positive reinforcement training will prevail in these and all other situations where a dog needs to learn to be more social and less reactive and unlearn what might have worked for them in the past. The quotations from Joey and Henry's loving humans with which I began this essay are right on the mark. Fighting fire with fire doesn't work, and saying "good dog" or letting your dog know they're a "good dog" go a long way in helping them to learn what works and what doesn't. (See "For Dogs, Helicopter Humans Don't Balance Scolds and Praise.") Don't hesitate to sprinkle your dog with praise. It's not only good for them, but also good for you.


This essay was originally published on Marc Bekoff’s Psychology Today site with the title "Bad Dog?" The Psychology of Using Positive Reinforcement.

For more on Marc Bekoff, see this interview with Dr. Marc Bekoff on Canine Confidential.  Read more guest posts on Companion Animal Psychology here.


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Confidence and Emotions Affect People's Use of Positive Reinforcement to Train Reactive Dogs

Confidence in being able to use the technique, perceptions of the effectiveness of positive reinforcement, and the emotional toll of having a reactive dog all influence people’s choice of dog training method, a new study shows.

Confidence and emotion affect use of positive reinforcement to train reactive dogs, like this white Chihuhua lunging and growling
Photo: Balakate/Shutterstock


If you’ve never had a reactive dog, then you’ve not experienced those grim moments of hanging on to the leash while your dog lunges and growls at other people or dogs. Feelings of anxiety and embarrassment are often compounded by negative reactions and comments from other people. But while reward-based methods are the best way to resolve behaviour issues, they aren’t always what people use.

New research from Dr. Emma Williams and Dr. Emily Blackwell (University of Bristol) looks at the factors that affect people’s decisions about the dog training methods to use with their reactive dog. The study shows the importance of dog trainers building their clients’ confidence and abilities to use positive reinforcement has important implications for how dog trainers work with their clients.

Dr. Williams told me in an email,
"When learning to use positive methods, people are likely to need practical support that demonstrates the effectiveness of reward-based training and also provides an opportunity to practice under expert guidance, so that people feel truly confident in using the techniques themselves in a range of challenging scenarios. This study shows the emotional impact that attempting to manage a reactive dog can have. It is important for owners, and the practitioners helping them, to consider their own wellbeing and reactions as well as those of the dog. In particular, how this may influence the choices that they make and in turn, how their own responses can best be managed over the course of their training journey."


Reactive dogs and training methods


Having a reactive dog that lunges, growls, and barks (or even nips and bites) at passers-by or their dogs is hard work and can feel embarrassing and stressful. For dog owners, having to deal with this behaviour may affect their quality of life. And failure to resolve the problem may significantly affect the dog’s quality of life, especially if people stop taking their dog for walks or continue to expose the dog to stressful situations.

But while we know that reward-based methods are the best way to train dogs, many people use aversive methods such as positive punishment that run the risk of an aggressive response or compromising animal welfare.

Behaviour problems are a common reason for dogs to be given up to shelters or euthanized. Encouraging people to use positive dog training methods could help dogs to stay in homes, reduce euthanasia rates, and reduce the frequency of dog bites. So it is important to understand what influences people’s decision to use positive reinforcement (see: why don’t more people use positive reinforcement to train dogs?).

The role of confidence, perceived effectiveness, and emotion in dog training decisions


The researchers conducted a survey of people whose dogs show reactive behaviour. 630 completed the survey in full, 93% of whom had heard of positive reinforcement, and 67% of whom said they were at least moderately knowledgeable about dog behaviour. The most common reactive behaviours were barking, lunging, and growling, but some dogs were also reported to snap, snarl, nip, or bite.

The results show that the most important factor in people’s decision to use positive reinforcement is how confident they feel about using it at home, followed by how confident they are to use it in public. The seriousness of the dog’s reactivity and advice from a dog trainer was also important. Perhaps reassuringly, these results show that what people see on TV or the internet and the opinions of their friends and family were not important factors in people’s decision.

The survey asked about people’s current use of different dog training methods, using example of each type rather than technical terms such as negative reinforcement. It also asked about future use of positive reinforcement, but not future use of other methods.

People were more likely to say they would use positive reinforcement in the future if they perceived the dog was likely to show reactive behaviour in future, had stronger beliefs in the effectiveness of positive reinforcement as a technique, and perceived that they would be able to use it successfully. As well, people who said they knew more about dog behaviour were more likely to say they would use positive reinforcement.

Trainers need to build people's confidence in working with reactive dogs, according to this study on what influences the use of positive reinforcement. Photo shows reactive white dog.
Photo: Balakate/Shutterstock


People’s perceptions of the severity of their dog’s reactivity did not affect their likelihood of using positive reinforcement in the future, but it did make them more likely to currently use positive reinforcement if they thought their dog’s problem was severe. Whether this difference means people did not expect to need it in the future (i.e. the problem would be resolved) or something else is not clear.

Current use of positive reinforcement was also affected by people’s perceived ability to use the technique and beliefs in its effectiveness.

Taken together, these results show the importance of beliefs that positive reinforcement is effective and that people are confident in using it both at home and in public.

If people had had previous negative experiences of using the technique, negative emotions, and if they were distracted, this reduced both their confidence in using positive reinforcement and their beliefs in the likelihood of it working. When people perceived their dog’s reactivity as more severe, they were less confident in using positive reinforcement but more likely to think they could manage the behaviour.

Negative emotions were particularly apparent in written responses in the questionnaire, where people wrote of feeling “stressed”, “nervous”, and “on-edge” because of their dog’s behaviour. Some people saw difficult situations as a “training opportunity”, and the scientists say this is a helpful framing.

People reported a wide range of negative emotions when they were not able to manage their dog’s behaviour, including feeling “frustrated”, “dejected and useless”, and “heartbroken.” Many blamed themselves, and said they felt like a failure or had “let their dog down.”

People were more likely to see information from external sources (such as dog trainers, animal behaviourists, books, TV, and vets) if they perceived their dog’s behaviour problem as severe and likely to recur.

Implications for dog trainers


These results show the importance of teaching people about the effectiveness of positive reinforcement, and of building people’s confidence in using it. Although some may think this seems obvious, dog trainers are used to building gradual plans for the dog, but less used to gradually building people’s skills or helping them develop coping strategies for a stressful and emotional situation.

One of the difficulties of managing a reactive dog is that it is very hard to control the environment so as to stay away from situations that provoke the reactivity, as people and dogs can sometimes pop up anywhere. As well, other people can be disapproving and make negative or angry comments which are hard to deal with.


"People are likely to need practical support that demonstrates the effectiveness of reward-based training and also provides an opportunity to practice under expert guidance."


The scientists say it is important that dog trainers support their clients in varied situations to help build their confidence. Helping people to see tricky situations as training opportunities can help them to stay positive. As well, they suggest sharing success stories about the effectiveness of positive reinforcement. (See: reasons to be positive about being positive in dog training).

Another implication is that providing more information about dog behaviour is likely to help more people decide to use reward-based methods in future.

Because of the findings about severity of the dog’s behaviour, it is possible that fear appeals (e.g. mentioning the legal risks) might make more people use positive reinforcement. However, the scientists say this would have to be done with care as there are circumstances in which fear appeals have unintended negative effects.

I've written more about these issues in another post: to promote positive reinforcement, teach, engage, and amplify.

Summary


This is an  important study that helps us understand how people make decisions about dog training. The survey shows that when someone has a reactive dog, their future use of positive reinforcement to deal with the behaviour problem is predicted by their confidence in using it at home and in public and their beliefs in its effectiveness. Negative emotions and bad experiences reduce people’s confidence in using positive reinforcement.

This means that providing support to build people’s confidence and prevent negative situations (or coach coping strategies for them) will likely increase the uptake of positive reinforcement methods. The people side of dog training cannot be neglected if trainers are to encourage people to use positive reinforcement.

If you have a reactive dog, choose a dog trainer with care as dog training is not licensed. You will also find a useful resource at the Care for Reactive Dogs website. http://careforreactivedogs.com/

If you look back at your own learning about dog training, what helped to build your confidence in your abilities?

Companion Animal Psychology is open to everyone and supported by animal lovers like you. If you like what you see, maybe buy me a coffee on Ko-fi?


Reference
Williams, E. J., & Blackwell, E. (2019). Managing the Risk of Aggressive Dog Behavior: Investigating the Influence of Owner Threat and Efficacy Perceptions. Risk Analysishttps://doi.org/10.1111/risa.13336

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